Bored at work? Its a feature, not a bug
In the age of technology, boredom is a pest, and our devices are highly effective exterminators. However, boredom is not something we should seek to eliminate. Much like other aspects of our mind, it serves an essential purpose: it tells us when something in our life is not the way we want it to be. When we try to avoid boredom, we miss important signals and start living a life devoid of meaning.
Boredom is a sign that you don’t feel challenged, stimulated, or interested in your work. It means that you are unhappy with your current work situation. Boredom is a broad term with a variety of causes. Explore and address the root cause behind your boredom to increase work engagement.
This article will explore what exactly you mean when you say you are bored at work, along with statistics and exploratory solutions.
Is it normal to be bored at work?
According to a survey conducted by Gallup in 2021, only 36% of employees in the US are engaged in their work. About 64% of employees are disengaged at work; 15% of employees are actively disengaged, meaning they have miserable work experiences. 74% of actively disengaged employees are looking to switch. In contrast, 55% of unengaged employees and 30% of engaged employees. Therefore, people who are NOT bored at work are a minority.
However, just because boredom is “normal” does not mean it is something you need to put up with. At the same time, trying to stifle it by looking for dopaminergic activities after work is not the answer.
Boredom is your mind’s way of telling you that something is off. If you feel bored at work, then here are some things that may be going on.
Why do I feel so bored at work?
1. You don’t care about your job.
If you don’t care about your job, that can lead to boredom and disengagement. For most people, work is at least a third of their lives. It is a waste of your time to spend a third of your life doing something you don’t care about.
2. You don’t feel valued at work.
If you don’t feel valued at work, that can cause a loss of motivation and disengagement. Employees who feel heard are nearly five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. It is very natural to want to stop investing resources when you are not getting what you want out of it. In this case, if you are putting in the effort at work and not receiving any acknowledgment or recognition, that can lead to disengagement.
3. You encounter friction with your boss, colleagues, or organization
57% of people who leave a job do it due to their direct manager. If you have problems with the people at work, your colleagues are driving you crazy, and the environment is unpleasant or even toxic, you would want to go home as soon as possible. As a result, this can look like boredom or lack of engagement at work.
4. You are struggling with a mental health condition.
Undiagnosed or unmanaged mental health conditions can manifest as boredom at work. For example, some of the symptoms of clinical depression include:
- Lack of energy
- Trouble concentrating, and making decisions
To a layperson, this may feel like intense boredom. However, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please get an evaluation from a licensed medical professional.
5. You are dealing with stressors outside work.
If you have problems outside work, then that can manifest as disengagement at work. If your mind ruminates on non-work-related stressors while in the workplace, your ability to focus will be impaired. When you’ve got a sick family member, relationship troubles, or financial issues, then you are likely to be distracted. It is hard to remain motivated to produce meaningful and quality work. The mind works best when it is not under stress.
6. Your skills don’t match your role.
Bosses value competent employees. Colleagues value competent colleagues. We value ourselves when we feel competent. Therefore, when our skills don’t match up with our role, then we are likely to feel incompetent and, as a result, will give up more quickly when faced with challenges. If you are underqualified or overqualified for the position, you will feel bored.
If you are underskilled, the tasks at hand will be too challenging and create anxiety. You will want to avoid this feeling of anxiety by wanting to step away from work.
If you are overqualified, you will not feel challenged enough, resulting in a lack of engagement.
The "flow state" is the sweet spot between a lack of challenge and being overwhelmed. It is the feeling of being “in the zone; when you start producing quality work while being fully engaged. Your skills must be congruent with your role to reach the flow state consistently.
7. You lack direction and goals at work.
Many employees just show up at work with a list of tasks and no long-term goals to work towards. This environment does not work for everyone. Most people work well when they have something to aim at in the long run; otherwise, they will feel aimless. This aimlessness can quickly lead to being bored and unengaged at work.
8. You are motivated by results.
Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, proposed two types of mindsets: growth mindsets and fixed mindsets. An individual possesses a growth mindset if they believe that one can develop intelligence, and failure is a lesson one can learn from. They believe that failure does not have to define you, which gives them the ability to persist in the face of setbacks.
If you are motivated by results, you are more likely to be discouraged when faced with setbacks. Discouragement can easily lead to a lack of engagement at work.
Setbacks are inevitable, and learning to deal with them is an essential skill that you must develop to level up your work performance and make life easier to manage.
9. You are stuck doing what you are good at.
Many people chase what they are good at without evaluating what they are intrinsically motivated to do. Often, this is because their competence and skillset form the basis for their identity. If they do something they are unskilled at, they feel bad about themselves. They base their worth on their output in the world.
However, most human beings are unskilled at things they have not tried before. Therefore, these people get stuck doing things they are good at but not what attracts them. Their identity limits them to a particular skill set and prevents them from exploring other careers. As a result, they get bored at work.
10. Your responsibilities have changed.
When you join a new job, your job description has a particular set of responsibilities. Over time, as the goals and needs of your organization change, those responsibilities may end up changing as well. As a result, your work may be different from what it used to be when you first started.
Maybe you no longer enjoy or find value in the work, or it is not as meaningful to you. In that case, you can likely become bored.
Consequences of ignoring boredom at work
If you spend a third of your life doing something you have no interest in, it will eventually result in a crisis. You will feel lost and not know where to take your life from that point. When we do not respond to the signals our mind gives us, we inevitably get stuck.
Chronic boredom over a long period can lead to boreout, the effects of which are the same as those of burnout. It's normal to get bored at work now and then, but there is a real issue when it becomes chronic.
Boreout appears to have real mental health consequences. A 2021 study showed that 186 government workers in Turkey who suffered from boreout also struggled with depression and high rates of stress and anxiety. Other studies show that depression from boreout can even lead to physical ailments, such as insomnia and headaches.
Laziness is an umbrella term that does not have a solution. It is an external label on an internal problem. One way to think about laziness is that you are highly motivated NOT to work. There could be other factors at play that are blocking your motivation to work. However, when your colleagues or supervisors see your work, they will likely label you as lazy or uninterested, which will affect your reputation and, consequently, your performance.
It is crucial to address chronic boredom at work at an early stage. One of the ways to do this is by having a conversation with your direct supervisor about your job responsibilities and expectations.
However, if you bring up being bored at work to your boss, there is a chance that they will not receive it well. Certain employers may think of bored people as lazy and will be dismissive. Therefore, if you approach this conversation with your boss, you need to be tactful and understand your boss’s management style.
What can I do when bored at work?
Being bored at work can be both an internal and an external problem. If it is an internal problem, the only solution is to do internal exploration and emotional processing. What creates the feeling of boredom? More importantly, what obstacles are in your way towards making work less boring?
The solutions to your boredom at work depend on the causes. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to figure that out:
- Do you enjoy any piece of your current work?
- If yes, what makes it enjoyable?
- If not, what do you dislike about it?
- What are you passionate about? What do you dream of doing?
- What are your strongest skills? What are you naturally good at?
- If you were to ask someone else to describe your strongest skills, what would they say?
- Can you think of opportunities to use your skills or talents at your current job?
Here are some of the causes of being bored and their solutions:
How to tell your boss you are bored at work
To communicate effectively with your supervisor, you need to figure out their managerial style.
Bosses come in varied forms. This variance exists because
- Bosses have different personality types, much like other human beings. They can be introverted or extroverted, detail-oriented, or focused on the big-picture.
- The company culture strongly influences the kind of boss you are likely to have. Companies like Whole Foods and Starbucks are known for their employee focus and reward a culture where employees care for each other. Therefore, bosses in those organizations are likely to be caring, understanding, and kind, unlike companies that are laser-focused on hitting sales targets.
No boss is purely one of these. Depending on the situation, a boss may switch from one of these types to the other. However, most of the time, your boss will have a dominant style that will reflect one of these types.
Should I Quit?
Quitting is often the first thought that comes to an unhappy employee’s mind, yet it is also the most extreme solution to a work-related problem. Before jumping to this solution, let's evaluate our options.
If you are bored at work and you quit, the chances are that you will be bored at your next job. Without putting in the necessary emotional work, you are unlikely to gain awareness of your internal motivations and emotional drives. As a result, you may feel fresh due to a change in environment but end up in the same situation after a few months. Remember, the feeling of boredom at work is an internal problem, and therefore the solution must come from internal exploration.
Quitting may be warranted in some situations if management cannot address the situation adequately. Examples include sexual harassment, unsafe working conditions, racist abuse, etc. There are no skills to build or feedback to consider in this situation. The priority needs to be switching to a safer environment.